October/November 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 6
Drawing upon a lifetime of study, our author chooses ten classic American candy bars worthy of special attention.
The J. N. Collins Company of Philadelphia began manufacturing a hard caramel candy filled with walnut chip in the early 1920s. After Pete Paul, Inc., of Naugatuck, Connecticut, took over Collins, Walnettos Sponsore “Uncle Don,” one of the most popular children’s radi shows of the 1920s and ’30s, and the bar sold well until the 1950s. Sales dropped further during the next decade, and Peter Paul bega to retire the bar. Then, late in the 1960s, a comedian on the popular television show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” whispered into hi companion’s ear, “Do you want a Walnetto?” She hit him over the head with an umbrella, viewers picked up the insinuating phrase, and the Walnetto bar enjoyed a brief and hectic renaissance on candy counters before going out of circulation forever.
The health faddism that swept over America in the 1920s made itself felt in the candy industry, with the name of this bar as one of the less appetizing results. The Vegetable Sandwich, its makers claimed, would aid in digestion and, moreover, “will not constipate.” A rival in wholesomeness made by a Kansas City firm had a more appealing name—The Perfect Bar—but there its advantage ended: “In response to the increasing demand for more scientific foods,” The Perfect Bar’s wrapper read, “we have combined in this confection dehydrated vegetables rich in vitamins—and bran.”
Perhaps the most famous mistake in candy history was made in the 1920s by the technicians of the Pendergast Candy Company in Minneapolis. Working to produce a chewy center for a bar that they had already named Emma, they put too much egg white into the recipe and came up with nougat that was fluffy rather than chewy. They promptly tacked the adjective fat onto their new bar and manufactured it with such success that its center soon became known throughout the industry as Minnesota, or Minneapolis, nougat. For a while the bar did so well that the Pendergast Candy Company came out with a male companion, Pie Face. But Fat Emma was expensive to produce, and soon Pendergast began leasing it to other firms to manufacture. For years the bar bounced around from company to company, last surfacing in Canada, and fading from sight less than a decade ago.
Lots of candy bars tried to draw on Hollywood glamour, and in 1927 a good deal of that glamour radiated from Clara Bow. Her torrid star turn in the movie It had made her the “It Girl,” a definitive Jazz Age symbol of beauty and sexual abandon,and the owners of Salt Lake City’s McDonald Chocolate Co. issued their It bar with her face on the wrapper. For a while the product sold well, but glamour is fleeting, and in a few years It was out.
The candy industry and the automotive industry both enjoyed great days during the years between the First World War and the Crash. The Fierce-Arrow was a car of formidable aristocracy, and the Chase Candy Co. of St. Joseph, Missouri, wanted to impart some of that image to its product. It did not, however, want to pay Fierce-Arrow a license fee, and it avoided doing so through the simple expedient of dropping the hyphen from the car’s name. The car died in the Depression, and so did the bar.
Charles Lindbergh carried five sandwiches with him on his 1927 flight across the Atlantic but no candy bars. This did not discourage the Lion Specialty Co. of Chicago from rushing this bar into the stores—nor did it discourage Lion’s rivals. A number of companies quickly developed bars with Lindbergh themes, but the pilot did not authorize any of them, and he never saw a royalty. The Lindy Bar did not long survive the Lone Eagle’s triumph.
The Charles N. Miller Company, so firmly based in Boston that in the 1880s it had manufactured candy in Paul Revere’s old house, paid tribute to its native city when it christened this chewy peanut butter and chocolate bar. The name Dearo was taken from a political group in Boston’s North End that the powerful John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald called his “dear ol’ North Enders.” The Dearo began as a penny candy and survived to become—under the rubric Big Dearos—a nickel bar.
During the 1930s and ’40s the Paul F. Beich Co. of Bloomington, Illinois, had children throughout the Midwest chanting their jingle, “Whiz, best nickel candy there iz-z.” But rising costs in the 1950s forced the price up to a dime and thereby ruined the meter. The unsatisfactory “Whiz, best candy bar there iz-z” could not save it; sales fell, and the dangerous starch-molding process by which it was manufactured finally doomed it. The last Whiz bar was consumed about thirty years ago.
The most phenomenally successful radio show of all time had some forty million listeners at its peak in 1931, and the Williamson Candy Co. sought to cash in on it with a two-piece bar whose chocolate coating covered a crisp honeycomb center. Produced under license, it sold reasonably well (or a few years, but its fortunes were linked with the show’s, and when Amos and Andy waned, so did their eponymous bar.
One of the early nut rolls, the Chicken Dinner bar was introduced by the Sperry Candy Company in the early 1920s, and its first wrappers carried the drawing of a roasted chicken. The unusual name was meant to echo the feeling of well-being and prosperity associated with “a chicken in every pot”—a slogan that went back to Henry IV of France and which would be revived for the 1928 Republican campaign. Fleets of Model A trucks disguised as giant, sheet-metal chickens were used by the Sperry people to deliver their creation. The makers took an amazingly long time to discover that a roast chicken didn’t convey the image of candy to most people, but at last, several years after the bar’s debut, the picture of the chicken was dropped from the wrapper. Sperry stuck with the name, however, and it is a tribute to the bar’s quality that it surmounted that obstacle for some forty years before finally disappearing in the 1960s.